Monday October 18th, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- If it weren't for the warmup jacket, Roy Oswalt would have fit right in with his position-playing teammates.

Aggressive yet successful baserunning is a Phillies staple, and after Placido Polanco singled in the seventh inning the jacket-clad Oswalt rounded third base with his head down, blowing right past third-base coach Sam Perlozzo, who was two-thirds of the way down the line, both arms held high in a universal and unmistakable stop sign.

"I wouldn't exactly call that blowing," Perlozzo said of Oswalt's sub-sprinter speed.

The play was close at the plate -- Perlozzo noted that Oswalt would have been "extremely out" if Giants centerfielder Andres Torres' throw had not been cut off -- but Oswalt slid in gracefully with a helpful insurance run as the Phillies went on to beat San Francisco 6-1 and tie the NLCS at one game apiece.

"We're pretty aggressive on the bases, but we're smart, too," rightfielder Jayson Werth said. "You don't see us making many outs on the bases."

OK, so Oswalt's running wasn't smart. He admitted after the game that he didn't see the stop sign until he was halfway to home plate -- "I said it's too late now, no turning back," he noted after the game.

But Oswalt, who allowed just one run and three hits in eight innings, said he felt like he read it well off the bat. That's the confident running style that first-base coach Davey Lopes -- the team's baserunning coordinator -- has instilled in his team, refusing to let his players run if they have any doubt.

"We don't think that way," Lopes said. "My job is to eliminate that thought process. If you've got that kind of thought process, you don't run. You get thrown out. That is not even part of our game. No."

For two years running, the Phillies have led the NL in highest stolen-base percentage, fewest number of outs made on the bases and greatest percentage of baseunners scoring. They also led in stolen-base rate in 2007 and '08, exceeding Lopes' goal of 80 percent success in each of his four years on the Phillies' staff.

Second baseman Chase Utley set the tone in the first inning. After drawing a walk, he stole second base on Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez's next pitch. Sanchez would walk two more hitters that inning and, when combined with third baseman Mike Fontenot's throwing error, the Phillies would score a run without a hit that inning.

The Phillies' second run was aided by aggressive baserunning without the need of a steal. Shane Victorino led off the fifth with a double, advanced to third on Utley's flyball to rightfield and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Polanco.

Right after Oswalt's run in the seventh, Utley was on second and Polanco on first. During a San Francisco pitching change, Lopes noted to Polanco that lefthanded reliever Jeremy Affeldt had a particularly slow delivery. Polanco whistled at Utley to get his attention and off they went in a successful double steal. That opened first base, leading to an intentional walk for Werth, which Jimmy Rollins followed up with a bases-clearing double to effectively seal the game.

"When you get into the playoffs -- I'm not saying you don't do it in the regular season -- but especially in a short series, you have to put as much pressure as you can on the pitcher and the defense," Lopes said. "If you can do that by running, it makes things a little more difficult for the opposition."

Significant credit for the Phillies' running success belongs to Lopes' instruction, and he admits he has a good situation with an organization that believes in running, a manager in Charlie Manuel who supports him and a team of athletes who can implement his game plans. Utley, Rollins, Victorino and Werth always have the green light.

Lopes, who had 557 career stolen bases in 16 seasons as a player with the Dodgers, A's, Cubs and Astros, has become an expert at reading pitchers' tells that indicate when they throw to the plate and when they may throw to first base. He said some pitchers only take two minutes to crack. Others may take six or seven and some are indecipherable, and he just tips his cap. Those aren't many.

"A lot of teams just run," Lopes said. "They guess. I like to take the risk factor out."

It could get even better if he gets his wish for an additional camera positioned in the first-base photographers' well, which would replicate a runner's vantage point of the pitcher. That, he said, would further aid his ability to break down pitchers.

The Giants, meanwhile, managed only six baserunners in eight innings off Oswalt, whose one mistake was a fastball down and in to Cody Ross, who homered for his third straight game and fourth time in his last seven at-bats, dating to Game 4 of San Francisco's NLDS-clinching win over the Braves.

Oswalt pounded the strike zone with a fastball that, he said, "had a lot of run on it." He salvaged a home split for the Phillies after Roy Halladay got the loss in Game 1. Oswalt entered the season with a chip on his shoulder after posting his first season ERA over 4.00 in 2009, a tough year in which his Astros kept getting worse. Since the Phillies traded for him in July, he has been brilliant.

His 6-12 record in the first half of the season with the Astros was deceiving, as his ERA was only 3.42. After the trade he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA -- with the Phillies winning 10 of his 12 full starts -- and his overall season WHIP of 1.03 led the NL.

"You read stuff, as far as age stuff goes, and last year I only won eight games but had 16 no-decisions," Oswalt said. "I came out of a lot of games we could have won, but it just didn't happen. People just look straight at the numbers and not at the games that you pitched and write their opinions. I tried to use that going into the season. In my first 10 or 12 starts, I had a chance to win every one of them, and I think I only won three."

But one thing he should be glad about is that anyone who just looks at the box score of Sunday night's game will see that he scored a run in the seventh inning, without understanding how perilous and precarious that run was.

His pitching performance, however, more than offset the potential blunder and ensured he didn't receive a rebuke from his baserunning coach.

"As long as he keeps giving [up] one run in eight innings," Lopes said, "he can do whatever he wants."

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